Michael Phelps was driving over the Allegheny Mountains after playing golf with Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux on Friday, bound for Baltimore. Friends from across the country were streaming into his hometown to celebrate his 28th birthday, which is Sunday. He had plans to stay in town for a week, do some work around his Canton home and relax after too much time traveling.
Swimming — at least competitively — was far from his mind. He knew reports speculating that he might be regretting retirement continued circulating. He heard, too, that rival Ryan Lochte again predicted a return for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"Man, people will believe anything that's written, anything that's on TV," Phelps said. "There's nothing in the works with me coming back to swimming. This is a part of my life I'm enjoying. I've never had freedom like this. I live on my own time. I play golf three or four times a week. I wake up whenever I want. I have a few things to do here and there, but mostly my time is mine. I'm not thinking about changing that."
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Lochte told reporters last week, "I think we all know by now that he's coming back." In May, Lochte said, "I think he will. I know he will."
Another former Olympian, Rowdy Gaines, has also predicted Phelps will return.
But Phelps said he hasn't felt the desire to return to the grind of everyday training.
"That's all I did for so many years," he said. "This life is new to me. I'm enjoying it."
His coach, Bob Bowman, has also repeatedly dismissed rumors of a return. Phelps struggled to dedicate himself to training for the London Games as he yearned to experience life away from the pool.
"I'm just don't think getting back into it and training at that level is what he wants from his life anymore," Bowman said. "He has so many other interests."
Phelps recently stoked speculation about a possible return by posting a picture of himself at Meadowbrook in which he appears to be taking direction from Bowman before diving into the water.
He was at the North Baltimore training center to complete a photo shoot for sponsor Speedo, though. Not to train.
Swimming publications have speculated that Phelps will announce a return to the sport closer to the next Olympic Games, but he said he has no such plan.
"Honestly, I haven't thought about it," he said. "I want to help grow the sport, and there are other ways to do it. My life, the way it is now, is great."